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Mind Your Manners

Mr. Miyagi from the movie The Karate Kid said, "No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher. Teacher say, student do." This thinking is not that far off from tradition Japanese values. There is a famous Japanese proverb "kodomo wa oya no kagami" (子供は親の鏡) or that "children are a reflection of their parents." As student's of Aikido, we are mago-deshi to O'Sensei. Mago means grand like in grandson and deshi means student. We are mago-deshi because we can trace our lineage back to O'Sensei. However because we are all mago-deshi we must act like direct student's of O'Sensei.

As Aikidoist and martial artists, it is believed that how we conduct ourselves is a reflection on our dojo, our teacher, our art, on Hombu dojo and O'Sensei. All Japanese martial arts follow this same line of thinking.

Warriors are supposed to be experts in kokkifukurei or self-restraint in all matters of etiquette and decorum.  A famous proverb is Yaiba ni tsuyoki mono wa rei ni suguru” which means that the greatest warriors surpass all others in etiquette and decorum.

Beyond what one's physical body can do, one's character is paramount or as Voltaire said, "With great power, come great responsibility." Furuya Sensei said it best, "Always act as if your teacher is watching." Be careful how you act, it is a reflection of more than just you.



"Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power." - James Allen

"If you think you're enlightened; go home." - Ram Dass Ram Dass' quote reminds us that the people closest to us, who know us the best, have the ability to put us off balance no matter how exalted we become.

The holidays can be a huge source of stress. As martial artists, we know that the ability to be calm in the midst of conflict is our greatest asset.

The Dalai Lama once said, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”

"To find inner peace, be still the mind and let go. Live in the now. Breathe." - Ryokan

To control one's self is the source of true strength. To be able to use our minds properly is true mastery. The ability to be calm is not only the goal in budo training but the display of true power. Our training dictates that we not only be strong and powerful but also kind, compassionate, patient and forgiving.  After all, it's the holidays regardless if we are warriors or not.


Align yourself and leave no openings

rei "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Many times in life, whether we like it or not, perception is reality and budo is no different. As a warrior, we must be forever diligent and thus must be en garde at all times. We can expect to be attacked anytime we let our guard down. Therefore we cannot leave any openings.

There is a famous Japanese saying, bushi wa kuwanedo taka yoji (武士は食わねど高楊枝) which means a "A samurai, even when he has not eaten, uses a toothpick like a lord."

Most think it means that a hungry samurai chooses pride before poverty. Another way to understand it is that if one lets on that they haven't eaten and are hungry then they will be weak and thus an easier target for attack. The perception of weakness can then lead to a person being attacked.

In training, we constantly trying to ensure that our intentions match our reality. If we want people to think that we are respectful then we must act respectfully. If we want people to think that we are humble, we should then act with humility. Conversely, if we want people to think we are jerks then we should act like a jerk.

Like it or not, people "judge" us by the things that we say and do. Our job as martial artist is to make our actions and our words line up with our intentions.




No matter what, choose to do it

ken"I took an arrow in the knee" was an old Norse saying to indicate that someone had gotten married. The arrow implies that one of the biggest decisions in one's life isn't necessarily made by choice. Just after Furuya Sensei passed away, I was working with one of my older clients and was telling him about Sensei's death. I said, "Now, I have to take over the dojo." He stopped me and said, "No, you choose to take over the dojo." At the time I did not think I had a "choice" but today I understand that it is what I chose to do. We can be in control or we will be controlled.

Today, in an arguably more civilized society, we are free and thus have freedom of choice. What is choice?  Choice is the ability to decide to empower ourselves with what it is we want. This empowerment begins by saying, "I choose to..."

Regardless of the situation or circumstance we can always "choose" how we internally address what is going on - we give it context. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it is called re-framing.  In Buddhism, it is called equanimity.  In budo, it is called the non-abiding mind.

Today, we don't have to do anything but we do get to choose to do whatever we want.  The choice is ours.

Take control

jackThere is a great saying from the movie Sanjuro, "The best swords are the ones that are kept in their scabbards." At the heart of all martial arts training comes the understanding that our minds are our greatest weapons and simultaneously our worst enemies. In the Japanese traditional arts, the highest level one can attain is the ability to show restraint. A master is supposed to be someone who has kokkifukurei or the ability to demonstrate their skills in decorum and etiquette but more importantly their ability to exercise self restraint at all times. Restraint can only come after years and years of training. Restraint is the ability to do the right thing at the right time which one might call seido in Japanese or precision in English. Learn to control yourself and your emotions so that other people cannot control you.  

Knowing is more than half the battle

sophrosyne-copy The journey toward being the best is a road traveled inward.  To think that mastery is defined by what one's physical body can do is too short sighted.

True mastery is not what one can do to others.  Rather, true mastery is to what degree one can control one's self.

The Greek word sophrosyne is exact definition of true mastery.  To get sophrosyne one needs to defeat the opponent within.  This is what O Sensei was referring to when he talked about Masakatsu agatsu or "The true victory is the victory over one's self."  If you want mastery, journey inwards.

All that you can do is your best

arrows heaven人事を尽くして天命を待つ、運を天に任せる.Jinji wo tsukushite tenmei wo matsu, un wo ten ni makaseru. Do your best and leave the rest to heaven.

Wednesdays can be tough.  Hang in there and just do the best that you can in this moment.

Enjoy your day!



Don't let your guard down even after the battle has been won.

kendo men tyingかってからかぶとのおをしめよ.Katte kara kabuto no o wo shime yo. "After victory, tighten your helmet."

This weekend three students took and passed their various dan rank tests.  I am truly proud of how they performed and the preparations that it took to get them there.

As the teacher, testing gives me an opportunity to look at who the students are under pressure, but only time will tell who they really are as human beings.  Katte kara kabuto no o wo shime yo is an old Japanese proverb that Furuya Sensei was fond of which translates to "After victory, tighten your helmet."

It is so easy to rest on one's laurels especially after a victory.  In the martial arts, the greatest enemy is complacency.

There are two types of people born out of testing.  Those who think they have arrived and those who realize how little they know.  Both of these are the curse of achievement.

It is a curse because shortly thereafter both realize that where they find themselves is really just a flat spot just before the path becomes a bit steeper.

Passing the test pales in comparison to what we do after that and thus the caution to "tighten one's helmet" is apropos.

Within the Aikido system of ranking, the first rank is shodan and is written with the kanji 初 which means "beginner."  Thus, this character alludes to the fact that attaining shodan is just the beginning of one's journey in Aikido.  First and second degree are "merit" ranks, third and fourth are technical ranks and 5th and above are teaching ranks.  There is so much to learn at each stage no matter where we find ourselves.  Each of us is student and we would benefit tremendously if we can remember that.

The battle never ends so wherever we may find ourselves, we must vigilant and thus tighten our chin straps to be ready.

Please keep up the great work and prepare yourselves for the next journey.

If the bird doesn't sing...

Daimyo largeWhat type of martial artist are you? There is a famous Japanese children's poem that children are taught to remember which can illustrate what type of martial artist we are:

鳴かぬなら、殺してしまえほととぎす: If a bird doesn't sing, kill it.

鳴かぬなら、鳴かして見せようほととぎす: If a bird doesn't sing, make it.

鳴かぬなら、鳴くまで待とうほととぎす: If a bird doesn't sing, wait for it.

This is a famous Zen parable about a fictional account of a Zen master asking the three most powerful warlords of the Sengoku or Warring states period (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu) what they would do if a hototogisu or cuckoo didn't sing.  It was a parable which illustrates the character of each of these three different types of leaders.

Oda Nobunaga was known for his fierceness and cruelty and thus would answer, "Kill it."

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the most cunning and would therefore coyly say, "Make it."

Tokugawa Ieyasu was the most diplomatic and patient so he would most likely say, "Wait for it."

There is a saying in Japanese, "Oda Nobunaga makes the pie and Toyotomi Hideyoshi bakes it, but Tokugawa Ieyasu is the one who gets to eat it."

The evolution of every martial artist is much like the philosophies of these famous Japanese Daimyos.  Whichever Daimyo style we identify the most with depends on where we are in our development.

The beginner usually wants to "kill it", the intermediate person wants to "force it" but an expert is willing to "wait for it."

Which of these most resonates with you?


Nobody's perfect

relax copy 猿も木から落ちる saru mo ki kara ochiru "Even monkeys fall out of trees."

We often think that we "should" be this way or that way.  The word "should" is about control.  When we engage in "shoulds", we give away our ability to control our own lives by choosing  what it is we want and we allow our choice to be governed by something or someone else.

Sometimes, the best thing that can happen to us is for someone to see us when we are most vulnerable.  Then, the cat is out the bag so to speak, and we can drop that false front that we all carry around.  When the jig is up we can relax because our so called worst fear has been realized and then we can take back the control of our lives.

Sometimes the best thing for us is the worst thing that can ever happened to us.

My favorite quote from the book, Tea Life, Tea Mind is:

Be rebuked Stand corrected and learn

Do you want to be great?  Then make some mistakes.  Relax, nobody's perfect.  Even monkeys sometimes fall from trees.


We are not alone...

friends We are not alone...

Sounds like a sci-fi title or some tag line to a bad movie about aliens, but the fact of the matter is that we are not alone and nothing is ever achieved or accomplished alone.  It's wonderful to think that we alone score the winning goal, achieve enlightenment on our own or get good at Aikido alone, but the reality is that no matter what is done, accomplished or won, we had help.  I read an interesting article about a book coming out called the Powers of Two in which the author contends that everything that has ever been done was done as a partnership.  In the article the author was spending time refuting the idea of the lone genius.  The lone genius would be someone who came about as a result of solely their own efforts.  Of course this is not true because from the moment we are born we are nurtured, protected and fed by someone else.  Therefore we are never alone and we never get it done by ourselves.

Aikido is the same.  Everything we achieve and experience is done as a cooperative.  We only get good as a result of someone helping us.  In a a big way, people help us by taking our ukemi or because some other person teaches us.  In smaller terms, someone made the cotton which was then turned into the uniform that we then bought so that we could do Aikido.  Either way our experience of Aikido came as a result of cooperation.

Upon realizing that the world turns only because of this cooperation we can begin to learn gratefulness and compassion.  We are grateful because we need the cooperation, kindness and compassion of others just to exist let alone do Aikido.  We are compassionate because we realize that they sacrifice for our benefit.  This never ending cycle of gratefulness and compassion is what Aikido is all about.  O Sensei called it love.

There is an old Japanese proverb, "No road is too long in the company of friends."  Please remember that you are not alone and to be not only grateful for the sacrifice and kindness of others, but to be also compassionate to them as well.  This is what Aikido is all about.

Don't give up!

dustちりも積もれば山となるChiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru "Even specks of dust over time become mountains."

"Don't give up!"  This is probably the best advice that anyone has ever given me.

So many times when we come up against our own mountains we become disheartened or disenchanted.  This disillusionment can cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture which is that every one of us starts out as a beginner and with time, patience and determination we get better.

"Don't give up!" means seeing the entire road and not just its impediments.

There is a saying in budo, "Bushi to kogane wa kyukei shite mo kuchinu" which means that gold and warriors may rest but never decay.  As martial artists we fight battles everyday against apathy and contentment.

"Don't give up!" is the battle cry of the specks of dust which over time pile up to become mountains.

"Don't give up!" because the only way to get better at whatever we are doing is to keep going - no matter what.

I promise, you will get better as long as you keep going and never give up.


This is how hard your partner is about you?

sanbai shaolin copySan bai no do ryokuTo triple one's effort.

"If my opponents train twice as hard then I will train three times as hard." - Masahiko Kimura

It is easy to take the day off or put something off until tomorrow.  It is only human nature to choose pleasure over purpose.

A martial artist is not a typical person.  We are seekers.  Thus as seekers we are people who purposefully choose the path not well traveled.  On this path we encounter some of life's greatest challenges.  It is in these challenges that our mettle is tested and our character is forged.

It is true that adversity builds character.  Building character is a layering process where each episode becomes the stepping stone to the next level.  When we are confronted with adversity we draw upon those past experiences to make ourselves stronger and to persevere in order to succeed.

One way to summon this strength is to san bai do ryoku or to "triple one's effort."

Furuya Sensei used to talk about the famous Judoka named Masahiko Kimura.  He was the pinnacle of Judo in the 1930 and is said to be the greatest Judoka ever.  There is a saying in judo, "Before Kimura there was no Kimura and there will be none after."  Kimura Sensei used this idea of san bai do ryoku to become the greatest Judoka ever.  His dedication and drive was impossible to beat and supposedly even in his retirement he still trained eight hours a day and did 1000 pushups.  Inspired by this, Sensei used to say things like, "If my opponents train for one hour, I should train three." or "If they do 100 suburi, I will do 1000."

The only secret to getting good at anything, albeit in business or in the martial arts, is to do it consistently and constantly.  How hard are you working?





A warrior always under promises and over produces.

Kick copy A warrior always under promises and over produces.

Bushi no ichigon comes from the Japanese proverb Bushi no ichigon kintetsu no gotoshi which means "The single word from a warrior is as unbreakable as the bond formed when gold and iron are combined."

Martial artists are supposed to be upright people of principle.  If we say we are going to do something then we do it.

This idea of bushi no ichigon is a work in progress for most of us.  When I was a student, I used to get into trouble all the time.  One of the main reasons why Furuya Sensei would have to scold me was because I "over promised and under produced."  Whenever he would ask me to do something, I would always say yes because I wanted him to like me and think favorably of me.  What I didn't understand was that Sensei was a "do-er."  He liked to get things done and if he asked me to do something it meant that he wanted me to get it done no matter what.  It only took a few hundred scoldings to realize this and stop doing it.

This idea of over promising and under producing is something that I see a lot in new students as well.  With just a cursory understanding of Aikido and the commitment that it take to master it, they always over estimate themselves.  This is not a bad thing per se, but it can lead to misunderstandings, miscommunications and hurt feelings.

It takes a long time to understand one's self and to gain the skill of maintaining healthy boundaries in order to practice bushi no ichigon.  When we understand ourselves better and maintain healthy boundaries, we can then fulfill the things that we say that we will do.

Fight one more round!

kendo men copy

“Fight one more round. When your feet are so tired that you have to shuffle back to the centre of the ring, fight one more round. When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard, fight one more round. When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black and you are so tired you wish your opponent would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round – remembering that the man who always fights one more round is never whipped.” - James "Gentleman Jim" Corbett

Don't ever give up.  A warrior's greatest asset is their ability to preserve and over come the odds.  Gentleman Jim's assertion could be the warrior's inner dialogue which drives them to the finish.  Perseverance, drive and commitment are those things which cannot be taught and are only learned along the way.

Mark Twain once wrote, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."  When things are rough and seemingly not going our way it really does comes down to the size of the fight in our hearts and warriors never give up!

Nobody said it was going to be easy...


七転び八起き Nanakorobi yaoki Fall down seven times and stand up eight

Furuya Sensei used to say, "To step off the path even a step takes a million miles to get back."  The hardest part about the Way is living it.  Living the Way means living our lives with conviction by a set of rules, boundaries or codes of conduct that we will do our best not to break.  Being resolved to live a certain way is easy to say but extremely hard to do.  It is easy to say, "I don't do" this thing or that thing but quite another to put it into practice.  The samurai referred to this practice of conviction as bushi no ichi-gon or "a warrior says one thing."  This warriors code dictates that we are resolved to make our actions, words and thoughts be in alignment with each other.  The honest truth is that I probably spend more time failing and stepping off the path than I do staying on the path, but that is human nature.

The proverb "Fall seven times and stand up eight" is usually depicted with a Daruma doll that has kind of a wobbly shape called okiagari in Japanese.  Oki means to get up and agari means to rise.  None of us are perfect, but what we can be perfect at is getting back up once we have fall down- Aikido can be thought of as the physical manifestation of this practice.

There is only one defeat and that is giving up.  At any given moment, we get the chance to do it better.  We can choose to step back on the path and choose to do better.  For me, my personal mantra is "I seek only to improve" and that helps me get back up and dust myself off and begin again.  That is all any of us have and that is all any of us need - the courage to try again.  One of the few things that separates humans from animals is the opportunity to change.  The lion doesn't have a choice to stalk, kill and eat his prey- it is in his nature.  It is in our nature to change, adapt and overcome.  It is in our nature to be better.  The Way is hard, but nobody said it was easy.

The path to the Dark side








"Fear is the path to the Dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering." -Yoda

In these turbulent times, please don't forget your training.

To follow the Way is to follow the path of equanimity.  Anger, hatred and violence only lead to more suffering.  Usually we are the ones who suffers in the end.

A true warrior must never let themselves be consumed by their emotions because as Yoda said, "It is the path to the Dark side."

A true warrior strives to get to a place called heijoshin or the everyday or ordinary mind.  To get to this place of equanimity one needs training.  We cannot get there sitting at home waiting for the day to arrive.  We must be proactive and challenge ourselves head on.  Anything else is just delusion.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. - Joseph Campbell

cave 1

"There is nothing noble in being superior to some other person. True nobility is being superior to your former self."  ~Hindu proverb

It is said that all paths lead to the same top of the mountain.  This Hindu proverb has the same connotation as O Sensei's, Masakatsu, Agatsu or "The true victory is the victory over one's self."  The only real opponent that exists is you.  This can be a hard concept for some to realize.  For many it takes a long time to fully realize let alone actualize.  We are sometimes our own worst enemies.  When we can realize this, the real battle begins and that opponent knows all of our moves and tricks.

How do we begin this battle?  This hard fought battle begins with first accepting that the only opponent that exists is you.  Secondly we now have to undertake the journey within.  Mythologist Joseph Campbell referenced this journey when he said,  "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek."  This was the basis for the scene in Empire Strike's Back where Luke enters the cave on Dagobah.  Next, the battle begins as we struggle with the truths of who we are and who we have become.  It is a struggle because some of those things may be painful or uncomfortable.  Finally, we come to a place where we have to let go.  We let go because the resistance we put forth will become too heavy of a burden.   At this final stage we should feel a bit lighter as the burdens we have carried for so long are lifted.  When the battle is through the things that burdened us or blurred the path will no longer be relevant and thus we can now move freely.  This unencumbered movement is the goal of every great martial art and that is why O Sensei said, Masakatsu, Agatsu  or that "The true victory is the victory over one's self."

Photo credit:Joey Mason Art

Polish your soul first




















Yaki tachi wo saya ni osamete, masumasu masurao no kokoro wo togari keri "Before you draw your tempered blade, keep it in its saya and polish your soul first."

What a great Japanese proverb.  It doesn't say anything about kicking butt, winning medals or smashing people.  This seemingly succinct statement sums up what training in the martial arts is really all about - developing one's self.
Picture source:

Kogun Funtou - to fight alone


















Kogun funtou 孤軍奮闘 To fight alone

In the end, nobody really exists but you.  In philosophy this idea that no other mind exists is called Solipsism.  I'm not trying to get all nihilistic here nor am I speaking about oneness in a narcissistic sense but what this idiom means is that when it comes down to it we are alone in our efforts.  No one is coming to save us or going to make us better - it is solely our job to get it done.

Training in the martial arts is a solitary pursuit.  We are influenced by our classmates and our teachers, but the improvements we acquire are ours alone and with that being said solely under our own power.  Rarely can anyone provoke us to get out of bed or off the couch and go to class.  Most times, we make an active choice to improve our lives by going out and pursuing that thing that we want.

There is an African saying, "If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together."  Kogun funtou is the first part of this saying in that to get what we want we must do it under our own power.  However, true change and lasting tranquility is only acquired when we share ourselves with other people.  In other words, it is only when another human being enters into our world is humanity truly created.  It is the same with art - it only becomes "art" when it is shared with the world.

In Aikido, this is where we come to understand the interdependent cycle of humanity.  We cannot improve if we don't do it under our own power, but man cannot evolve unless we share ourselves with others.